After the commercial failure of Caress of Steel, the band had one last chance to prove themselves, and had been given their marching orders by the record label: don't bother with long, prog-rock pieces, record short songs that would be radio-friendly. The group decided to stick to their guns, and record the album that they wanted to make. If this was to be their last effort, so be it, they would go out on their own terms. If they were to fail, then they were going to fail spectacularly.
The result was 2112, the album that put the band on the map.
The song '2112' runs about 20 ½ minutes, and like 'The Fountain of Lamneth' runs the length of an entire album side. Unlike 'Lamneth' and 'The Necromancer', '2112' succeeds in ways that those two previous extended pieces did not. The individual components that form the overall piece all function well on their own, and they flow well together to form a greater whole. The concept is intriguing and the lyrics are engaging. It should also be noted that, while the group would draw no small amount of flack for the dedication to Ayn Rand as inspiration for the song, Peart's lyrics here are much subtler here than they were on 'Anthem'. If one was not already familiar with the Rand story that in part inspired the song, the lyrics would not automatically be associated with Rand's philosophies had the dedication not been included on the album. '2112' is the story of one man against a society that has no use for him, not exactly a trope that Rand invented.
Additionally, the rest of the album holds up well. The most notable tracks include 'A Passage To Bangkok' (which for many fans is an excuse to 'light up' during live performances, but 'Bangkok' has more heft lyrically than most such songs), and 'The Twilight Zone' (inspired by the classic T.V. Series). However, the remaining tracks – and this is important – also pull their weight; there are no weak links in the chain, so to speak. 'Lessons' (with lyrics by Lifeson), the ballad 'Tears' (lyrics by Lee), and 'Something For Nothing' are all solid, well-done pieces. It should also be noted that, after the flaws on Caress of Steel, Terry Brown's production on this album nails it, showcasing both the power and the artistry of the songs.
The word 'masterpiece' gets bandied about a lot for anything that has any critical following, but the original use of the word had different implications. For craftsmen back in the middle ages, a masterpiece was a work that one could use to show that they had passed beyond being a mere journeyman in their trade, but was in fact a master of their craft. 2112 is Rush's masterpiece; not because it is their best or most famous album, but because it is the album that says, “we are not a Zeppelin knock-off or a half-baked prog band, we have a distinct musical vision and a unique sound all of our own.” 2112 was the album that no one else but Rush could have made, and this is the first album where the band really sounds like what one now thinks of as 'Rush'.
Despite not getting a lot of radio airplay, 2112 was a commercial success, eventually going multi-platinum. The album not only ensured their continued viability as a band, but also bought them their freedom from further interference from their record label. It's an album that stands up to repeated listenings even to this day, and if one is going to pick up only a handful of Rush albums, 2112 should be among that number.